What a Difference a Year Makes

By , SparkPeople Blogger
It was exactly one year ago today that I blogged about running my first 5K race. "I am not a runner. I really do not enjoy running," it opened.

It was true. Running was something I did rarely because it made my lungs burn and my heart race. It challenged my body (and my mind) like no other workout ever could. I didn't think it was fun and I wasn't sure that I believed the so-called "runner's high" even existed.

Six months after that race, I still didn't call myself a runner. When interviewed by a local reporter, I distinctly remember her asking me if I was a runner. "No way!" I had said—because I wasn't. Even though I had fun during that first 5K race and hoped to do more, I hadn't set any goals to run and I still couldn't make myself stick with it.

How could so many people run and actually enjoy it? Coach Jen and Nancy were both training for the Chicago Marathon. So many of our most successful SparkPeople members had lost 20, 50, even 100 pounds and started running 5Ks and eventually half and full marathons. And they all seemed to be having fun while they did it. Was something wrong with me?

Around July, I started running more regularly (once a week) to take advantage of the beautiful summer mornings. Then I increased to twice a week. By the end of August, I was regularly running three times per week, solely because I wanted to thoroughly test the Nike+ SportBand before I posted a product review. Little did I know it, but my determination to test that little gadget put the universe into motion and resulted in something I never expected.

I had never cared how fast I went or how much distance I covered when I ran. I tried to distract myself by listening to my iPod instead of thinking about how bored I was. But as I started using the Nike+, I began mapping my routes, paying attention to speed and distance, and tracking my workouts to compare them to the SportBand's readings. Suddenly, I wanted to go longer, faster and farther. I started updating my SparkPeople Friend Feed with details about the day's run or my goal for tomorrow's run. I got Woo-Hoo's and cheers from my SparkFriends that made me want to do better and encouraged me to stick with it.

Because of this new interest in running, a friend got me an early birthday gift in: She paid my registration fee for the September 27th Teddy Bear 5K in Cincinnati. It was to be my second 5K—almost a year after I completed my first one. Not only would I be running with my SparkPeople co-workers Stepfanie (her first 5K) and Nancy (one of my biggest inspirations!), but the race was the day after the SparkPeople Convention in Cincinnati and I had heard that several members were also planning to run, too. I knew this would be a race that I wouldn't soon forget.

I spent three weeks training seriously for the race. I was already running three times a week for about 35 minutes (enough to do a 5K), but I set two new goals: to run the entire race without stopping or walking (because during my first race, I wasn't in good enough shape to run the whole way), and to beat my previous 5K time (which wasn't shabby at all, despite all the walking, at 27 minutes and 58 seconds).

To reach those goals, I ran three to four times a week, even while on vacation. I wore my Nike+, mapped my runs, and tried to go faster. I ran father and longer. I trained up lots of hills to prepare for the race, which was rumored to be pretty steep. I read articles about running form and technique and incorporated the instructions into my runs with intense focus. When tracking my workouts, I saw marked improvements in my speed—but also in how I felt. No longer were my calves hurting or my heart racing. I was getting better. Probably most notably, I was actually enjoying myself! I was becoming a runner!

The day before the race, I got what amounted to a year's worth of motivation from the SparkPeople Convention. Members shared their remarkable stories, like ~INDYGIRL who went from bed-ridden to walking and KSIGMA1222 who lost over 150 pounds and has completed several races. That night, I talked with husband-wife members BOBBYD31 (Bobby) and MIAMIA7 (Anne)—also dedicated runners. Bobby and I talked about running for more than an hour that night, about tomorrow's race and my goals for it. He wasn't planning to run it, but the next day he and Anne both showed up and Bobby registered for the race. He agreed to be my running partner for the entire race, helping to keep me on pace to beat my previous time (something that I don't think Bobby would have ever imagined doing a couple years ago when he was 60 pounds heavier). I had my iPod ready to go, stocked with my best Power Songs to get me up the hills and to the finish line. I wore my Nike+ and Bobby had borrowed a Garmin Forerunner from Nancy for better accuracy. (After all, meeting this goal of mine was serious business and we wanted to be prepared.)

We were off! iPod on, Nike+ working, Bobby setting the pace. I felt good! I attacked the hills, thanks to my training, without losing any steam. There weren't many participants in this small race and we started realizing that I was one of the lead female runners, the discovery of which not only shocked me, but helped push me to keep the pace because I was in the running (pun intended) for a medal! During the last half of the race, I realized that I didn't need my iPod, which was becoming more of a nuisance than anything as the strong winds blew the earbuds out of my ears repeatedly. I turned it off and focused on the moment, encouraging the other runners and walkers we passed and checking my watch for timing.

As we rounded the final corner to the homestretch, the crowd was cheering and I saw the clock. I pulled ahead and crossed the finish, shattering my previous time (27:58) by more than 2 minutes. Nancy was there, snapping photos and crying tears of joy for each of us (we've nicknamed her "SPARK_CRYBABY")—she was like a proud mama! 25:45. I couldn't believe it!

A year ago, I never thought I'd be a "real" runner. But now, I can't imagine being anything else. What I've learned and accomplished, I couldn't have done on my own. I posted 8 lessons from my first 5K last October, but with time comes wisdom. One year later, I have four more:

1. Set a goal. My problem before is that I didn't have a goal. But once I set some goals (to do the race, to run the whole course, and to beat my time), I was motivated to stick with my training plan. Having a goal to work toward can keep you going—especially when it has a time constraint, like a race that has to happen on a certain day. Even on mornings that I was tired and didn't feel like running, knowing that my race was coming up inspired me to get out of bed and stick with my workouts.

2. Start where you are now. I realize that many people reading this might be far away from running, let alone completing a 5K. But every successful SparkPerson who runs, climbs mountains, completes marathons or loses 100 pounds started somewhere—with a single step or a single pound. So many people have started where you started and done amazing things. What they didn't do is start out running or racing or losing dozens of pounds in a single day. Focus on smaller goals and build from there. We all start where we start, but with consistency, we can all get where we're going and achieve some amazing things we never thought possible! Don't believe me? Read Heather's story; she walked the race with us—her first 5K—and won a medal.

3. Find support. This is what SparkPeople is all about! I stayed accountable by posting updates to my Friend Feed and getting encouragement from my SparkFriends. On the day of the race, Bobby became my coach and helped me so much. I could have never kept that pace and momentum without his guidance. Even the greatest athletes in the world have teams, trainers, coaches and fans. Even the SparkPeople coaches need encouragement—and we often get it from members like you!

4. Keep trying. I used to give up when running was hard or boring. What I didn't realize is that it was both hard and boring because I didn't do it consistently enough. The more I trained, the easier it got, and the easier it got, the more fun it became to challenge myself and reach new goals. The competition (with myself) motivated me to try my hardest—not just the day of the race, but all the days leading up to it, too. Nothing worth doing ever comes easy, and the sweet is never as sweet without the sour.

Have you used any of these 4 lessons to reach your own goals? If not, will you?

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Thank you for sharing this story with us! :-) And congrats on finishing your 5K with an improvement in your time and within yourself!

I have just recently started running...something I never thought I would do! My fiance and I have started using the Spark Your Way to a 5K training guide and we've both been doing really well with it, too! We've got our first 5K coming up in a week and a half - we'll have to walk/run the entire thing because we aren't quite ready yet - but I know with some determination and goal setting - we'll be ready for our next one!! :-) Report
This is such an inspirational story. Someday I hope to get there. Thanks so much for posting this blog. Report
You did great .. I am not a runner i just do not enjoy it .. My son and hubby are and they love it Report
Thanks for the great blog. I'm training for my second Turkey Trot fun run to take to take place on Thanksgiving morning . It's just a mile run that I run with my husband, brother,and niece. I hope to run my first 5k in the spring. Thanks for the inspiration! Report
Hi Nicole, I'm new to SparkPeople and found this entry to be really motivational. I certainly don't consider myself a runner either and I just ran a 5k this past Sunday b/c my sister signed me up for one and I totally didn't train for it and I set a pre-race goal of getting under 30mins - I came in at 30:30. But I'm excited to use your 4 lessons so maybe I'll sign myself up for another one.

Thanks! Report
Coach Nicole, I am very touched with your running story and how you evolved into a runner. It reminds me so much in many ways to my own story with becoming a runner (still can't believe I just wrote that). I posted a blog entry just last night about this very thing.


Oh by the way, l did the entire Cardio Blast DVD last Saturday and after that I was a very sweaty mess with trembling legs! The hopping workout just about did me in! You put together a GREAT DVD and thank you! Report
What a fantastic and motivational story for those who think they can't but do. I am a runner and triathlete, which I never believed I'd ever say something like that. It's an awesome feeling to say it and I hope you keep on running. Take it easy though on your body and listen to your body. I went all out for several years and eventually paid for it by injuring myself and having to take almost a year off from running. So continue to have fun and keep on Running! Report
another take-away from your experience: track your progress. mapping runs (with SparkPeople fitness maps, Nike+, Garmin, or whatever) helps you see your progress. i love to check my run data. it's usually very encouraging. (I did 2 miles in under 24 minutes! wow!)

I'm working through a Couch to 5K program and there's definitely a sense of accomplishment :-) Report
How inspirational! I would love to be a runner someday. I'm going to try to get there. Report
Great for you all,,,congrats, Nan Report
Thank you for the inspirational story! It especially helps to know that you started where so many of us do (burning lungs, etc:). Have you tried barefoot running, or running with minimalist gear? I've started a sparkgroup (barefoot and natural exercise enthusiast) because I'm fascinated by barefoot running - I stopped running years ago because I developed knee pain, and feel like the switch to minimalist shoes has really helped. I'm curious about what other people who are actual runners :) think, if they've tried to make the switch. Report
Thanks for sharing this Coach Nicole. Congratulations to you on your accomplishments. You have inspired me more than ever to persue my dreams of running a marathon. Report
Way to go Coach Nicole. I have been contemplating running (jogging) again because it really cranks up the cardio and burns up the calories.

I have run a 10K and a 5K before so I know I can do it. My "excuse" has been that I broke my ankle 1 1/2 years ago and needed to "let it heal." Well, I know it's good enough to start running again (slowly and run/walk for awhile) I just need to "fix" my mind and tell it it's o.k.

Thanks for sharing your story about the Teddy Bear 5K. Also thank you for being such a great coach.

Nice pictures!

SparkHugs and Cheers . . . Deb Report
I loved this blog! I always despised running, that is, until I lost 100 pounds and started doing triathlons! Even last year training for my first tri I hated the running part, but now that I have a year of good training in, I have become a runner too! I did my first 5K not connected with a TRI last weekend, and have an 8K this weekend, followed by my first half marathon!!! Guess once the running bug bites, you are hooked! :) Report
As I was reading the begining of this article I felt like I could have wrote it. I'm not a runner either but am currently training for a 10K. I always wanted to do a 5K but was to nervous to try b/c running is hard for me. My 10 year old daughter decided she was going to run in one with her friend and me being the overprotective mother thought I'm running with her. It was great and I just finished my third and now moving on to a 10K. Thanks for the article it was great! Report
I am so PROUD almost 2 weeks later. What a great blog!!!

Congrats Nicole! You are a runner!!
I've started running again, and realize just how much I've missed it. Not ready for a 5K yet, but that's my goal--and to beat my previous time!
Kudos to all who are taking the steps to keep moving--and running! Report
Thanks for the inspiration. I am not a runner, but I would like to run. Thanks for the tips! Report
Thanks Nicole for the inspiring blog. I have been doing some strength training lately and have felt good enough to add some running intervals to my regular 3-mile walk on Sunday mornings. I have been toying with the idea of training to actually run a 5K next summer. You have inspired me to commit to this goal. Posting my progress on my Friend Feed will help keep me focused and accountable. Thanks. Report
Hooray to you and thanks for the inspiration to keep going. I'm hoping to do my first 5K in the near future and stories like yours let me know that I can do it too. Report
this is so inspiring! I was a dedicated runner - practically every day - for about nine months. and then I went on my honeymoon and when I got back I just no longer had the push to do it. I have had the desire - even went out and bought better running shoes (which was part of the problem of loss of motivation!). I took them out for a spin once but I often think about how much I did actually ENJOY running. I think I was just lacking a goal.

I've been toying with the idea of entering a 5K and for some reason, reading this today has given me that extra push I needed.

thanks for that. and congratulations! Report
Your words in #2 really hit home to me. I just walked in my first heart walk last week, and I am fired up to do more. It wasn't really timed, or distance, you just showed up and walked around the track. Last night I was able to slowly jog for 5 min without stopping. That felt so good for me!!!!! Thanks so much for sharing you journey. I copied #2 to my wall so that I can read it over and over again. Thanks again! Report
I cant wait for my first 5k! Report
Thanks for a wonderful post! I just joined a Women's 5K training group--our first training session is tonight (yikes!)--for a race in December. This will be my first race of any sort and I am definitely going to keep your experience and lessons learned in mind. Report
You are a runner! I just ran my first 5K and had to walk a bit through it, but I'm determined to do the same as you and run the whole way through. Thank you for this inspirational blog that will help others training for a race or contemplating running! Report
Congratulations, Coach! and thank you for sharing--as you do so well--both the trials and the triumphs. Good blog. Report
Wow, once again, I could be reading my own story. Except I don't run that fast. But I've gone from someone who loathed running, to running 3 times a week. I still can't really say I enjoy it, but I realize that somewhere along the way I have become hooked. Nothing blasts calories so fast! Even when you're slow. :)

I do plan to run a 5k next year, God willing. Right now it takes me about 45 minutes on a treadmill, with some walking, so I'd be happy if I could do it in 40. Which I know is slow, but it's fast for me & I'd be totally happy with it. If I could just overcome my fear of running outdoors . . . Report
Great story!
Add some strenght training to avoid injuries.
Kudos to you Coach Nicole, what a great accomplishment!

I think it's great you mentioned "your coach" Bobby, that is what SPARK is all about, helping each other, being an encouragement to each other. That was really awesome of him to sign up for the race that morning and go with you to be your coach.

Kudos to Bobby too.

You both are an inspiration! Report
Nicole, I love reading your blogs! You're always so upbeat and I feel like you, along with all the SP team, are "one of us." It's so motivational to read a story like this and remember that everyone has his or her challenges to overcome but we can all accomplish goals one step at a time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Report
Yes, you were awesome and you have your medal to prove it! (Mine's hanging on my wall in my bedroom, haha.) Report
That was such an inspiring blog. Believe me when i say that i am NOT a runner. I have tried so many times and gave up. Now i see its because i don't do it regularly enough, not setting goals etc. Thanks for posting this blog Coach, i will be a runner by the end of this year...maybe not fast but i will be doing it. Report
Your 4 tips are great. We all need to start where we are now at a pace that will keep us encouraged. Setting realistic goals and working towards them at our own speed is important. Also knowing there will be slip ups and the need to try, try again. Glad you are enjoying running. Report
Oh wow, I am so inspired by your blog Coach Nicole. I have been "trying" to run since June and have done 3 5Ks with my fourth one coming up this weekend. I am running/walking. I have a long way to go but I am inspired to keep at it now. Thanks for writing this one! Denise from Ohio (hope to get to a convention in Cinci one day!) Report